What is Pork Loin? [Everything You Need to Know]


Pork loin roast is a lean and tender cut of meat that’s beautiful fresh off the grill or smoker. Find out exactly what it is, how to prepare it, and how it’s different from pork tenderloin.

Pork loin joint on rustic cutting board

Pork loin is cherished by meat lovers for its moist and tender texture, matched with its mild flavor. Whether you’re a fan of grilled pork loin chops or a slow-smoked pork loin roast, the balanced marbling in this cut guarantees flavor, making it a favorite among barbecue fans.

From taste and appearance to the best cooking methods, here’s everything you need to know about pork loin.

Pork loin steaks with ground spices on rustic cutting board

What is Pork Loin?

Pork loin often goes by many names. However similar they are, it should not be confused with pork tenderloin. The most accurate name for pork loin would be pork loin roast. Pork loin is the tough muscle found along the back of the hog, on either side of the backbone. Running from the shoulder to the hind leg, it’s one of the largest pork cuts you can buy.

What Does It Taste Like?

It is a lean cut of meat, and as such, it has a rosy color. Instead, it has a thin layer of fat over it. This layer is referred to as a fat cap, and it influences the taste of the cut. As the name suggests, it covers the meat, just like a cap would, sealing in moisture and tenderness. You may remove this if you want nothing to do with the fat, but that may not be the best idea if you want to avoid a dry piece of meat. 

It is often referred to as the leanest and yet most tender and juicy cut of the pig when it is slow-cooked. But if it is not cooked right, it can turn out to be chewy. One can describe the flavor as being mild. As such, it can be straightforward to overcook, so make sure that you watch over it closely when you cook until it reaches the right internal temperature. 

What Does It Look Like?

The meat itself is rosy pink in color. When it is cooked, it will have an off-pink, white-like color. It is also a sizable piece of meat and can get steaks from it because of its width. Also, you can find pork loin with or without bone. 

What Are the Three Sub-Cuts of Pork Loin?

Pork loin has sub-cuts. Perhaps this is the reason why it is so often confused with these. There are three sub-cuts: the blade end, the sirloin end, and the center portion. The blade end is found close to the shoulder and is often quite high in fat. The sirloin is closer to the rear and has more bones. The center portion is in the center and is lean, tender, and can be a bit pricey too. 

Pork Loin vs. Pork Tenderloin: What’s the Difference?

These two are often confused for each other, but they are very different and cannot substitute. Even though they are similar in several ways, such as lean meats, both having a mild flavor, and both being tender when they are cooked, they vary. Let’s take a look at some of those differences. 

  1. The first and most obvious is that the two cuts come from different parts of the animal.
  2. They look different
  3. Pork loin is lighter in color than tenderloin. The loin is an off-pink or white, while the tenderloin is a dark red and cooks to a dark brown.
  4. Tenderloin is smaller and thinner than pork loin, and as such, it cooks faster. The thickness is very different between the two.
  5. Pork loin is wide and flat.
  6. Pork loin is less expensive than pork tenderloin. 
  7. Pork tenderloin is best cooked over high heat, while pork loin does better when it’s slow-cooked, roasted, or grilled.
  8. Pork loin can be sold bone-in or boneless, while pork tenderloin is boneless.

However, both need to reach an internal temperature of 145˚F for them to be safe enough to eat. 

Cooking Methods

pork loin meat grilled on BBQ, barbecue open fire

There are different ways in which you can cook a pork loin. They all depend on what you want at the end of the day and the flavor you want to bring out. Marinating the meat ahead of time is a good way to make sure that you get all the flavors beforehand and soften it up a bit before it hits the cooker.

Smoked Pork Loin

Pork loin is best cooked low and slow, and smoking is one such way. You can brine it before smoking so that you infuse the salty flavors into the meat. It’s a great way to infuse a smoky flavor into the meat. For the best smoked pork loin, trim and score the meat beforehand.

Grilled Pork Loin Roast

When you grill pork loin, it helps to preheat the grill. You will want to grill the meat until it browns nicely on the outside and is no longer pink on the inside. Use an internal temperature probe to be guided as to when the meat should be ready. 

Cured to Make Back Bacon

For this, you will need to use salt that will come up to about 8% of the total weight of the meat and sugar weighing 2% of the total meat weight. Cover the meat in cling wrap and put it in the refrigerator for about a day. 

Nutritional Value

It’s important to know the nutritional value of the food we eat, and this also rings true with pork loin. For a serving of 3 ounces of pork loin, you can expect 163 calories. Of these, 67 are from fat. It has 2.4g of saturated fat, 01g of trans fat, 0.8g Polyunsaturated Fat, 3g Monounsaturated Fat, 68g Cholesterol, 39mg Sodium, 297mg Potassium, no carbohydrates, 22g of protein, 22g, 0.1% of Vitamin A, 0.5% Calcium and 3% Iron.

Times & Temperatures

Pork Loin on Barbecue Fire

The meat’s internal temperature is the most important factor to consider over the time it takes to cook and the oven temperature. The recommended internal temperature for pork loin is  145˚F. At this temperature, the meat is safe to eat. When it reaches this temperature, it is advisable to let it rest for about 3minutes. You can cook it further if this level of doneness doesn’t work for you. 

For smoking, you will need to set your smoker to 225˚F for between 2 and 3 hours. While grilling will need about 1 to 1 ½ hour at 350˚F. 

About the Author

Ben Isham-Smith

A BBQ obsessive, Ben is behind 250+ of The Online Grill’s recipes, as well as countless barbecue guides to help barbecue newbies get to grips with the world’s best form of cooking.

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